A symbol is a material emblem portraying and unfolding a spiritual reality. The Holy Spirit is presented with some symbols in the Bible, which depict a reality of truth about the Holy Spirit and throw light on both his nature and mission. The symbols of the Holy Spirit are: Dove, Fire, Oil, Wind and Water.
The Dove: This can be seen in the description of the baptism of Christ (Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:30-34). A dove symbolises peace (Psalms 55:6; Song of Songs 2:12); purity (Song of Songs 5:2; 6:9); innocence (Matt. 10:16); and beauty (Psalms 68:13; Song of Solomon 1:15; 2:14).
The dove is used to reveal the gentle, yet powerful, workings of the Holy Spirit. A dove is a gentle creature that is easily shooed away, no wonder Paul warns the church against grieving the Spirit of God (Eph. 4:30). Where there is a rejection of His ministry, the Holy Spirit will not remain for long. Through the gentle workings of the Holy Spirit, God points out our failures and nudges us in the right direction.
Fire: Fire as symbol of the Holy Spirit is indicated in the statements about Holy Spirit’s baptism (Matt. 3:11) and the tongues of fire on the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:3-4). Fire illuminates, warms, refines, purifies and can change material from one form to another. The fire of the Holy Spirit is not about burning as some project because the Bible never tells us that the Holy Spirit is given for our destruction but for our help.
Oil: In the Old Testament, priests were consecrated and ordained as oil was poured upon their heads (Exod. 29:7 – see also Lev. 8). Kings were also anointed with oil as they took up office. Oil was also used to keep the lamps burning in the Holy Place, and it was vital that they should never run dry (Exod. 27:20). Holy Spirit, thus, not only anoints and empowers for Divine service but also enlightens and lubricates. The Holy Spirit both illuminates and eliminates friction in our lives. Oil is also used to anoint the sick (Mark 6:13; James 5:14).
Wind: Wind as a scriptural symbol signifies life and activity. It sets forth the power, invisibility, immaterial nature, and the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s work in regeneration is like the wind (John 3:8) and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Pentecost Day was described in terms of a sudden “sound like the blowing of a violent wind” (Acts 2:1-4).
Water: Jesus likened the Spirit, which the believer in him was to receive to “streams of living water” (John 7:37-39). The one who is filled with the Holy Spirit has this “living water” flowing from his innermost being. This analogy of the Spirit and water is also found in the Old Testament. (Isa. 44:3; Joel 2:28-29). The water’s functions of washing, cleansing and refreshing correspond to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The Ven. Dr Princewill Onyinyechukwu Ireoba is the Rector, Ibru International Ecumenical Centre, Agbarha-Otor, Delta State.